As expected, I absolutely adored Tel Aviv. I had been avidly looking forward to the trip since we booked flights six months prior, and I’d had a deep yearning to visit Israel for many years, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of. I’d flirted with the idea of becoming a kibbutznik right after leaving university, but being offered a graduate job knocked that idea into the recesses of my mind, and my ensuing career erased any chance of it becoming feasible. As someone interested in modern history as well as having a passion for travel, and adventurous travel at that, Israel had long been on my must-visit list. The pictures I’d seen, the things I’d read on the rich culture and the fascinating, sad and complicated history, as well as its relative omnipresence in the news, meant that the country had attained an almost mythical status in my “places I must visit” list. Compounding that were the fascinating and unpredictable issues with Israeli stamps in your passport. I knew I had to go.
Easyjet flights from London Luton to Tel Aviv-Ben Gurion were around £200 return when I booked them. Sadly this was cheaper than El Al, with whom I would have much preferred to fly with in order to have a truly Israeli experience from start to finish. Easyjet are the quintessence of ordinary in my eyes, having flown with them from Glasgow to Bristol and back every week for a year in a previous job. Nevertheless, they got us from Luton to TLV in just shy of five hours.
I had read something of the security procedures at Ben Gurion Airport, and was anticipating some light questioning upon arrival. However, presenting my passport at the immigration booth, the friendly young woman merely asked me if it was my first visit to Israel, where I was planning on visiting and if I knew anyone in the country. Those few questions answered, she scanned my passport and quickly returned it with a slip of paper poking out of the top.
This is the new B2 tourist entry visa, as opposed to getting a stamp in your passport. It’s great for travellers like me who appreciate stamps and visas in their passport, and it means you’re free to visit any of the countries that regard Israel as an enemy without issue in future (this one isn’t mine of course, merely an example I found online).
We hopped on the train to the Tel Aviv HaShalom station, located close to the city centre. One of the first things I noticed immediately upon leaving the station was that armed soldiers in uniform are everywhere, both on duty and seemingly travelling to and from their bases. Also of note is that the entrances and exits of each railway station in central Tel Aviv have airport-style metal detectors and baggage scanners, and in the HaShalom station there was a bomb shelter on platform level.
Our hotel was located on the famous Dizengoff Street, conveniently. Lined with shops, bars, restaurants, falafel and shawarma vendors and cafés, the street was considered “the Champs-Élysées of Tel Aviv” until its decline in the 1970s. I loved it, and I loved staying right on it. As well as being alive with Tel Avivim eating, drinking and shopping, everything felt so close; falafel, bars, the beach a short walk away up Gordon or Frishman Street.
Frishman Street needs a special mention here for being the location of the best falafel I’ve ever tasted: Frishman Falafel. Delicious freshly deep fried balls of chickpeas and fava beans, in a soft pita alongside delicious humous, salad, tahini, pickles and a crunchy potato croquette on top. Amazing and highly recommended. Adjacent to Frishman Falafel is Frishman Sabich, which I regret we didn’t try on this trip. Next time for sure though.
(more to follow…)